MLB predictions — Who will thrive, struggle in 60-game season?


With the final hurdles cleared for a 2020 MLB season, the likes of which we’ve never seen before, we asked ESPN’s baseball writers, reporters and editors for their best guesses as to what we’ll witness during this abbreviated campaign.

What teams and players are best suited for the shortened season? And who will struggle? Which is the team to beat? And who will be the 60-game MVPs? Here’s what our experts had to say.

Pick one team that could thrive during the 60-game season?

Our votes: Rays 4; Dodgers 3; Angels, A’s, Braves, Brewers, Padres, Rangers, Reds 1.

Why the Rays? Given the increased importance of every game in a shortened season, strong bullpens will be more vital than ever. Year after year, the Rays find ways to pluck great relievers seemingly out of thin air, and I expect 2020 will be no different. — Joon Lee

The case for the Dodgers: I actually believe it’s the Dodgers, even though one could argue a team this thoroughly talented might be more vulnerable with a smaller sample size. Their depth might be more important in this 60-game season than it would in a typical 162-game campaign. Their pitching depth will help them navigate a short spring training, their position-player depth will grant them far more designated hitter options than any other National League team and their overall depth will help combat a season when a multitude of players might be sidelined with positive COVID-19 tests. — Alden Gonzalez

Eyeing the Angels: This gives the Angels at least a chance to get “full” seasons on the mound from Shohei Ohtani — who would otherwise have been on a restrictive innings limit — and Griffin Canning, who would have missed the first half of a full season with injuries. They also have one of the oldest lineups in baseball, and the oldsters might benefit from evading the 162-game grind. — Sam Miller

Don’t forget the Braves: Evaluators highlighted a pair of potential elements for winning teams in a shortened season: starting-pitching depth and young position players. The Braves have both. Their rotation could include Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Cole Hamels, Mike Foltynewicz, Felix Hernandez, Kyle Wright, Sean Newcomb, Touki Toussaint and prospects Ian Anderson, Bryse Wilson, Tucker Davidson, Kyle Muller, Huascar Ynoa and Jasseel De La Cruz. It’s an obvious piggybacking situation. Their lineup has stars Ronald Acuna Jr. (22 years old) and Ozzie Albies (23), Dansby Swanson (26), and it could at some point include outfielders Cristian Pache (21) and Drew Waters (21). The Braves have won two consecutive National League East championships. They’re favorites for a third straight. — Jeff Passan

In the Brewers’ favor: The Brewers have a lot of mix and match, especially on the pitching side, that won’t have to be paced across a full 162 and a perfect DH candidate in Ryan Braun whose once-again-everyday status strengthens the lineup. And I think the competition in the two Central divisions is going to be the weakest across the leagues. — Tristan Cockcroft

Winning formulas: The sorts of clubs that will benefit most are (1) stable veteran contenders with a deep pitching staff and (2) young, high-variance fringe contenders. In the first group, we have the Dodgers, Yankees and Rays. In group two, there are many more options, but I’ll narrow it down to the Padres, Braves and Blue Jays. — Kiley McDaniel

I think teams with very young rosters, such as the Blue Jays, Tigers and Marlins, will benefit in the beginning. Fitness and preparation are going to be an important factor from the get-go. But any team with a solid rotation will thrive, given that hitters will have less time to get their timing at the plate, meaning the Nationals, Dodgers and Rays will have an edge. — Marly Rivera

Pick one team that could struggle during a 60-game season?

Our votes: Nationals 3; Astros 2½; A’s, Indians, Yankees 2; Red Sox, Twins 1; Dodgers ½.

The defending champs? Not only did the Nationals start slowly last season, which if repeated would be a bigger problem, but Anthony Rendon is gone and the pitching depth, particularly in the bullpen, could be a concern. — Eric Karabell

Trouble in Houston? The Astros have lost Gerrit Cole, and Justin Verlander just started throwing off a mound as he recovers from March groin surgery. They will need heroes to emerge, such as Lance McCullers Jr. — Buster Olney

Why the Yankees? Dare I say the New York Yankees? I do. There’s a lot of risk/reward on the roster. It’ll be a tough year for finding free-agent replacements or completing trades. And the East divisions are sure to be the majors’ most competitive. I see the Yankees making the playoffs, but I see their winning percentage ranging closer to that of the wild-card teams than a runaway division champ. — Cockcroft

Why the Indians? During the past two seasons, Cleveland got off to slow starts and had to play better late in the campaign to make up for it. The pitching staff is the clear strength of the team, but ramping up starters is going to be extremely challenging without spring training games. And we never really know what to expect from Jose Ramirez in a given month. — Dan Mullen

Why the A’s? Recent history suggests the A’s are slow starters. If that carries over, they could be out of it before they find their groove. — Jesse Rogers

Plenty of concerns: Teams without a lot of stability in their pitching staff, including the Braves, Cardinals and Twins. — Rivera

All of them, because 60 games is such a crapshoot. The best players can fall into bad slumps during 60 games, and given the unusual timeline of the season and how people have been mostly at home for the past few months, it really feels like anything could be possible. — Lee

Sorry for the cop-out, but this is the truth: The one that gets hit with COVID-19 infections and the soft-tissue injuries that are so abundant early in the season. In a 60-game season, a COVID outbreak in a clubhouse could be crushing. The players who test positive will miss at least a week of action — and all those exposed to them will need to quarantine too. When there are only nine weeks in a season, playing extremely shorthanded for one of them could be crushing. Say a COVID-hit team goes 1-9 over a week and a half. Let’s also say a playoff berth requires a .550 winning percentage. That’s a 33-27 record, meaning that faltering team would need to play .640 baseball over the remainder of its games to make up for that down stretch. Just watch: The healthiest teams will be the best. — Passan

Bottom line, which is the team to beat in baseball this season?

Our votes: Dodgers 14½; Yankees 2½.

Why the Dodgers? Adding the DH is a dream situation for their stacked offense, and they can maximize their pitching staff knowing they don’t have to cap any of their young starters’ innings. — Cockcroft

So much depth and talent. Mookie Betts should thrive in L.A., and David Price could be in line for a bounce-back season in the NL. — Peter Lawrence-Riddell

There’s no compelling reason to think that our spring training perspectives should be radically altered by the short format, if only because we have never done this before. — Bradford Doolittle

It’s still the Los Angeles Dodgers. Long season, short season — when you’re as talented and deep as the Dodgers, the length doesn’t matter. With teams already looking to shed salary too, the Dodgers can use their farm system to poach relievers if their bullpen proves at all troublesome. They are a juggernaut waiting to happen, and the 10-team playoff format gives them more certainty than a 16-team expanded version would have. — Passan

The Dodgers are the class of the NL. Can they do it in October, however? — David Schoenfield

Pointing to pinstripes: Gerrit Cole is healthy and in the prime of his career, and he gives the Yankees the ace that they needed. On paper, it’s as good a team as we’ve seen in a couple of decades — and during the downtime, some of their walking wounded, including Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks, healed. — Olney

Who is one player you think could thrive under 2020’s format?

Our votes: Shohei Ohtani, Kyle Schwarber 3.

Also mentioned: Ronald Acuna Jr., Joey Gallo, Marco Gonzales, MacKenzie Gore, Josh Hader, Bryce Harper, Keston Hiura, Michael Kopech, Francisco Lindor, Jesus Luzardo, Luis Patino, Nate Pearson, A.J. Puk, Miguel Sano, Max Scherzer, Juan Soto, Stephen Strasburg, Eugenio Suarez.

Why Ohtani? He should be ready to pitch out of the rotation when the season begins in late July, and he also will be DH’ing on most of the days when he isn’t the starting pitcher. If that holds true for the duration of the season, there might not be another player who has a greater impact over the course of 60 games. — Gonzalez

Why Schwarber? He really should have been drafted by an American League team, but now, with the universal DH, he can leave his outfield glove at home. — Karabell

Others ready to shine: Bryce Harper. Historically, he is a very fast starter, and if he has to deal with a nagging injury or two along the way, he could benefit from some days at DH. — Olney

Eugenio Suarez. He had shoulder surgery in January, so he has had months to regain strength. In a stacked Reds lineup, he’ll put up MVP numbers. — Rogers

A.J. Puk. This is as much about a type of player who could succeed as this specific player, but I’m very intrigued by young high-upside arms who can pitch in a variety of roles as the season goes. Dominant young pitchers who can alternate between starting and becoming multi-inning relievers as needed are going to be difference-makers this season. — Mullen

Miguel Sano. No cold weather, plus AL Central opponents? He’ll win the home run title. — Christina Kahrl

Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer should benefit from the shortened schedule, given Strasburg’s workload last postseason and Scherzer’s injury issues by the end of the season and even in spring training. Now they won’t have to worry about holding back. — Schoenfield

Young, upper-minors prospect pitchers will be the winners in terms of getting MLB service time they normally wouldn’t have received. MacKenzie Gore, Luis Patino, Michael Kopech and Nate Pearson are at the top of that list. — McDaniel

A resilient, durable, multi-inning front-line reliever could have outsize value this year. And that pretty much sounds like I’m describing Josh Hader. — Doolittle

Who is one player who you think could struggle under 2020’s format?

Our votes: Shohei Ohtani 2.

Also receiving one vote: Kyle Hendricks, Craig Kimbrel, Mookie Betts, Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Clayton Kershaw, Yuli Gurriel, Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Jose Ramirez, Madison Bumgarner, Edwin Encarnacion, players in their walk year, veteran starting pitchers.

Ohtani again? I worry about Ohtani getting on track at the plate, because if the shorter schedule involves fewer days off, he might lose some time at DH between starts. — Kahrl

Others with issues: Mookie Betts, Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon — any player who might have otherwise been granted a little adjustment period in a new setting. — Miller

Players in contract seasons already face enormous pressure in putting forth the best effort possible to maximize earnings in free agency. Now they face the added stress of a 60-game season in which a 10-game slump could sink a stat line. — Lee

I think it will be trying for any veteran starter. Baseball players are creatures of habit, and none more than a starting pitcher. Not only did their training get disrupted, a short season also affects the time they would need to build up arm strength. — Rivera

I’d be most concerned about older players who would be high risk for decline anyway. Nelson Cruz fits here, although he was so good last year, it’s not like he’ll suddenly be terrible. I wouldn’t count on a Miguel Cabrera comeback or Albert Pujols being of much value to the Angels — Schoenfield

Some guys are just slow starters, and I’m wondering how that will show up in a two-month season. Take someone like Yuli Gurriel, the Astros’ first baseman, for example. Over the past three years, his OPS at the end of May has been .693. After May: .882. — Gonzalez

Betts. Not only is he changing teams (and leagues) for the first time in his career, with the shortened season, Mookie will be facing a ton of pressure to perform for his new squad and a new contract. — Steve Richards

Craig Kimbrel: He already has struggled in a shortened season. After signing with the Cubs in June last year, he gave up a career-high nine home runs. He isn’t getting the normal spring training for a second consecutive season, so watch out. — Rogers

Who are your picks for 60-game MVPs?

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Our votes: Mike Trout 8; Alex Bregman, Francisco Lindor 2; Matt Chapman, Carlos Correa, Josh Donaldson, Giancarlo Stanton 1.

The case for Trout: The best player on earth. — McDaniel

The case for Bregman: Maybe this will go the other way, but Bregman loves proving people wrong, and he is heading into a season with a lot to prove. He is an elite player with or without any sign stealing, and he’ll relish the chance to quiet his doubters. Bregman does have a history of slow starts, so there’s definitely a chance this pick won’t look so good with the 60-game format. — Lawrence-Riddell

The case for Lindor: He is in the prime of his career and healthy, and he will face a lot of pitchers he knows well, with two-thirds of his games against AL Central opponents. — Olney

Other picks: Josh Donaldson goes through a stretch or two every year when it doesn’t seem like anyone is going to get him out. Now he only has to keep his legs healthy for a couple of months, instead of five or six. And his NL-to-AL move takes him out of a division with starting pitchers named Strasburg, Scherzer, deGrom and Nola into one where he’ll be facing the Tigers and White Sox often. — Mullen

Matt Chapman wins it as the star player on the AL West-winning A’s. — Kahrl

Carlos Correa. He only has to stay healthy for 60 games. — Richards

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Our votes: Mookie Betts 6; Ronald Acuna Jr. 5; Jacob deGrom, Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, Eugenio Suarez, Fernando Tatis Jr., Christian Yelich 1.

Why Betts? Betts has the added factor of a laser-focused, Usain Bolt-like sprint into free agency. He has 60 games to be the one guy to beat a depressed market. — Doolittle

He’ll show teams why free agency won’t be entirely dead this winter. — Passan

Why Acuna? One of baseball’s most dynamic young players takes the next step in his progression. — Richards

Other contenders: Harper will blast out of the gates crushing the ball and never slow down. — Olney

Christian Yelich. No matter the format, this is a pretty self-explanatory pick. A few days off in the DH role is only going to help matters. — Mullen



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